Wesley Crusher returns to the Enterprise during a break from Starfleet Academy while the Enterprise prepares to negotiate the details of moving a Federation colony off a planet that, as a result of a recently signed treaty changing the Federation/Cardassian border, will soon reside inside Cardassian space. It's a two-pronged storyline that ultimately comes together, albeit somewhat clumsily.
After a stretch of episodes that seemed like the series going haywire with every kitchen-sink idea it could think of (including some spectacularly bad ones), "Journey's End" is the first installment that feels like TNG entering the final leg of the series, making a point to wrap up some character threads — in this case, the story of young Wesley. That it must turn Wesley into a colossal douche in the process (by TNG standards) is something I'm torn over: On the one hand, it's a change of pace (although "The First Duty," which already dismantled his boy-wonder image, was a much better example of that), but on the other hand it's not exactly a worthwhile change of pace, and it feels awfully ham-handed. Yeah, Wesley is struggling with doubts over who he is and where he's going, but having him lash out just makes him seem childish.
This character thread is set against the backdrop of a Federation colony — made up of American Indians who have preserved a centuries-old culture on this far-away world — being told they are being forced off their land because of political machinations larger than themselves. While the notion of "Space Indians" feels like something that would've been fodder for TOS, the writers bring a decidedly TNG sensibility to it, with Picard wistfully noting the disturbing parallels between this assignment and what happened to Native Americans hundreds of years ago. (Less effective is the contrived guilt surrounding the claim that one of Picard's ancestors was a man who participated in a massacre of Indians, which seems superfluous while indulging the show's spiritual mumbo-jumbo as somehow able to magically provide facts that most people would need books for.)
Meanwhile, the situation created by the treaty here is an interesting footnote because it would soon be the impetus for the Maquis, which would be crucial plot elements for both DS9 and Voyager. Gul Evek (Ricard Poe), the Cardassian who is the thorn in everyone's side here (and at times seems like he wants to be gasoline on a fire), makes for a strong, if sometimes excessively forced, antagonistic presence. He could've been a solid recurring character on DS9 (and indeed he was in a handful of episodes) if the show didn't already have the terrific Dukat.
The plot threads come together as Wesley is befriended by an Indian named Lakanta (Tom Jackson) and encouraged to explore his spiritual side in a ritual that I wish I cared more about, but which feels kind of perfunctory. (Wesley sees his father in this vision, which I guess technically means this episode qualifies in the season's never-ending Family Tree Theater sweepstakes.) It turns out this Indian is actually the mysterious Traveler (Eric Menyuk, last seen in fourth season's "Remember Me"), who is trying to lead Wesley to his destiny as an exceptionally rare human with the ability to transcend space and time.
While it has its moments, "Journey's End" doesn't ever jell. The political solution is too easily solved, such that Picard is able to sidestep the distasteful actions we had been told the whole episode would be unavoidable. As for the final chapter in Wesley's story, I guess it's appropriate for this character — which is part of the problem. When a character's arc is to be constantly and annoyingly exceptional (save the aforementioned "First Duty"), seeing the revelation here that he's actually superhumanly exceptional is not really getting to the crux of the guy. A lot of people have problems and wonder who they are and where they're going. Not a lot of them pull themselves outside of the space-time continuum to find the answer. I guess that's why they call it Star Trek.
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